Obama issues new medical marijuana rules: No arrests

From Raw Story:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors Monday.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws.

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

California is unique among those for the widespread presence of dispensaries — businesses that sell marijuana and even advertise their services. Colorado also has several dispensaries, and Rhode Island and New Mexico are in the process of licensing providers, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that promotes the decriminalization of marijuana use.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in March that he wanted federal law enforcement officials to pursue those who violate both federal and state law, but it has not been clear how that goal would be put into practice.

A three-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states, and also to top officials at the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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Scientists Grow Mice Heart Muscle Strip that Beats

From CNSNews:

Washington (AP) – Scientists have grown a piece of heart muscle – and then watched it beat – by using stem cells from a mouse embryo, a big step toward one day repairing damage from heart attacks. Think of Dr. Kenneth Chien as a heart mechanic. “We’re making a heart part and (eventually) we’re going to put the part in,” is how he describes the work by his team of Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers.

Lots of work remains before trying that dramatic an experiment in people. But regenerating damaged heart muscle is a holy grail in cardiac care.

Doctors today have lots of treatments to prevent a heart attack. But once one strikes, there’s no way to restore the heart muscle it kills. Gradually the weakened heart quits pumping properly, leading to deadly heart failure.

Hence the focus on embryonic stem cells, master cells that can give rise to any tissue in the body. Until now, scientists haven’t known how to coax those cells into producing pure cardiac muscle.

Instead, researchers have tried injecting heart attack survivors with mixes of different kinds of stem cells, next-generation types like those found in bone marrow. The idea: Perhaps once those cells were inside a damaged heart, ones capable of growing cardiac muscle would receive a “get to work” signal and take root. There’s been little success so far.

The new research, published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, promises a more targeted approach.

“It’s not the home run,” cautioned Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which is spending millions on research nationwide into cardiac regeneration. “But it’s a major advance that’s helping to move the field forward in a very significant way.”

Embryonic stem cells give rise to more specialized organ-producing stem cells. The team from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Mass General recently discovered a master heart stem cell present in both human and mouse embryos.

But could they control it enough to make just the kind of heart cell they wanted to grow? They’d have to winnow out the daughter cell whose only job is to grow the muscle fibers of the ventricle, or pumping chamber.

Chien genetically engineered mice so that certain cells in the embryos’ developing hearts would light either fluorescent red or green. As he watched the embryos grow, where the colors overlapped signaled developing heart muscle. Sure enough, when the team plucked out those cells, they were pure ventricle generators.

Next Harvard engineers pitched in with a special scaffolding. The team “seeded” the scaffolding with these ventricle stem cells, and a thin strip of mouse heart muscle grew right in the laboratory.

Not only that, it spontaneously beat, the team reported in Science and at a National Institutes of Health meeting this week on the state of cardiac regeneration.

“This looks like the kind of work a normal heart tissue strip would do,” said Chien, director of Mass General’s Cardiovascular Research Center. “We went from embryonic stem cells to an organ.”

What next? This was not a fully developed piece of heart muscle but a thin strip. To be usable, it would have to be thicker, more three-dimensional, for more beating strength. It also needs a nourishing blood supply. So a next big challenge is pinpointing which daughter to those master heart stem cells will grow blood vessels.

The NIH’s Nabel said the experiment also offers a possible new opportunity for cell therapy _ that perhaps injecting the precise muscle-generating cell directly into a damaged heart would have a better chance of sticking and working.

The Harvard team wants both methods tried.

“We’re not saying this is going to happen tomorrow,” said Chien, who also is working on repeating the work with human cells. “I believe within five years,” it might be ready to try with people.

‘Spider pill’ offers new way to scan for diseases including colon cancer

From The Telegraph (U.K.):
A new way to scan for diseases, including cancer of the stomach or colon, using a remote contol ‘spider pill’ camera with moving legs, has been hailed by scientists in Italy.
Experts believe the device, which is swallowed by the patient and controlled by doctors using a wireless connection, could transform the difficult and invasive process of diagnosing serious conditions.

The pill, which contains a tiny camera, is also fitted with tiny legs that can be activated remotely once it is inside the colon or intestine.

The legs protrude outwards and are movable in order to make device to ‘crawl’ inside the patient like a spider. It can be moved back and forth, giving doctors more flexibility during the examination.

Dr Enrico Grasso, a cancer specialist at the University Hospital Tor Vergata in Rome.in Italy, told the BBC the invention could reduce the use of endoscopes that many patients find so uncomfortable that they refuse treatment.

“It could improve adherence to the program,” he said.

Pills containing cameras already exist, but this is believed to be the first that can be controlled after it has been swallowed.

Once the examination has finished, the spider pill exits the body naturally.

It has been successfully tested on pigs but further trials will be needed before it can be cleared for use by doctors.

Elisa Buselli, one of the scientists working on the project that created the spider pill, said: “This should improve the situation not just for the patient but also the doctor.”

Los Angeles DA: ‘About 100%’ of medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal

At about the same time that California is considering completely legalizing pot, this guy is going after the dispensaries.

From Raw Story:

In spite of a law on California books for over a decade which allows the sale of medical cannabis to properly licensed patients, the district attorney in Los Angeles County is preparing an all-out legal assault against the “vast majority” of dispensaries.

“Hundreds of dispensaries operate under a 1996 voter initiative that allowed medical marijuana use, and a state law that allows for collective growing of marijuana,” NBC Los Angeles reported. “But based on a state Supreme Court decision last year, [LA County District Attorney Steve] Cooley has concluded that over-the-counter sales are illegal. Most if not all of the dispensaries in the state operate on that basis.”

“The vast, vast, vast majority, about 100%, of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally, they are dealing marijuana illegally, according to our theory,” Cooley said, according to The Los Angeles Times. “The time is right to deal with this problem.”

That “problem” — over the counter sales of marijuana to licensed patients — accounted for some $18 million in tax revenue for the state last year, reported The Christian Science-Monitor, during a time when California is facing the greatest budgetary challenges in its history.

However, those with prescriptions for marijuana account for roughly 10 percent of the state’s marijuana users, according to a California NORML report (PDF link) prepared for the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance.

“In a radio interview on KABC-AM (790), Cooley reiterated his plan to close down many of the 800 to 900 medical marijuana shops believed to be operating in the city of Los Angeles,” noted the Contra-Costa Times.

“We will give them fair notice and, hopefully, they will see the light and voluntarily close down,” Cooley reportedly said. “We are going to uphold the laws of California.”

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a group which advocates the nation-wide legalization of cannabis for adults, strongly disagrees.

“Last year, the state’s attorney general issued a legal opinion that clearly stated that ‘a properly organized and operated collective or cooperative that dispenses medical marijuana through a storefront may be lawful under California law,'” MPP noted in Opposing Views. “Maybe Cooley didn’t get the memo.”

They continued: “If Cooley is somehow successful in eliminating L.A.’s medical marijuana facilities, the effect would be disastrous for patients forced to find their medicine in the underground market and would be a boon to the violent drug cartels that often supply that market. Voters in Los Angeles — who overwhelmingly support medical marijuana — are probably scratching their heads trying to figure out why their district attorney wants to enrich criminal drug dealers at the expense of patients.”

“Cooley and other officials say that in addition to selling to minors and others who do not use the drug for medical purposes, some of the dispensaries sell marijuana laced heavily with insecticides that endanger users even as they help finance Mexican drug cartels,” Contra-Costa added.

There are three voter-sponsored initiatives circulating California at the moment which seek to put complete legalization and taxation of marijuana on the state-wide ballot in 2010, according to the Orange County Register.

“If one of these initiatives passes, California would become the first state to legalize marijuana and impose a tax on it, a move proponents say could help get the state out of an unprecedented budget crisis,” the paper reported.

DA Cooley’s first targeted dispensary is “Organica,” in Culver City, according to Mercury News.

“We have our strategy and we think we are on good legal ground,” Cooley said, the LA Times noted.

Marijuana is California’s most valuable cash crop, responsible for over $14 billion in annual sales, according to Time magazine. If legalized and taxed, it could produce $1.3 billion or more in revenues for the state, California tax collectors have estimated.

Fixing bones with dissolvable glass

From PhysicsWorld.com:

Oct 1, 2009

Doctoring broken bones in the future could be easier and simpler – thanks to a metallic glass material that can be used to make dissolvable screws, pins or plates. Bone fractures or breaks are routinely fixed in place with metal implants to encourage healing. These are usually made from corrosion-resistant steel or titanium, but have to be removed in a second operation once the bones have mended.

In an effort to make this extra surgery a thing of the past, materials scientists led by Jörg Löffler at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have designed a metallic glass that dissolves harmlessly in the body. The idea is to make small supporting objects from this material, such as pins or nails, which would disappear over time.

Strength without the bubbles

The biggest challenge has been finding a suitable material. Requirements include strength, flexibility and durability, coupled with the ability to be absorbed without toxic side-effects. The best candidates for the job are magnesium alloys – but when these dissolve in the body they produce bubbles of hydrogen gas, which hinder bone growth.

To get around this problem, the Swiss team adjusted the components of the alloy to 60% magnesium, 35% zinc and 5% calcium, moulded in the form of metallic glass. This is made by rapid cooling of the combined mixture of molten metals – a process that prevents the conventional metallic structure from forming. Instead, the metals have an amorphous glass-like structure that is brittle but strong.

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In animal studies, there was no sign that hydrogen bubbles were forming. “By changing the composition of the alloy, we believe that we are changing the corrosion reaction that takes place,” explains Bruno Zberg, lead author on the paper, which is published this week in Nature Materials. The researchers also found that they could adjust the speed of corrosion by varying the zinc content of the alloy, which may prove useful when designing different types of implant.

Slow dissolution

“The glasses usually dissolve at a rate of around one millimetre per month – although it depends on the size of the implant and location in the body,” Zberg told physicsworld.com. “Either way, the number of metal ions being released into the bloodstream is relatively low and they are diluted in the blood quite quickly.”

“This is certainly a novel approach and an interesting concept, but there are still issues to address,” says Robert Hill at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, UK. “Early steel implants suffered from fatigue failure after they corroded – so it is important to ensure that this new material does not become critically weakened in the same way.” Another danger, Hill notes, is that threading on screws could corrode, or fibrous tissue could form around shrinking implants, making them come loose.

A further question remains over whether the dissolving metals will help or hinder the growth of new bone in their vicinity. Zberg notes that this also depends on the quantity being released – but acknowledges that these questions will all need further investigation in the future.

About the author

Lewis Brindley is a freelance science and technology writer based in Chelmsford, UK

Obama’s drug czar blames hot weather for medical marijuana lie

I’m surprised they’re calling it a lie in the headline. I would have thought that they would have been a little more tactful and used something like “mis-statement,” or “mistake,” or “error” or something similar.

From Raw Story:

This could not have happened even a year ago.

Gil Kerlikowske, the United States Drug Czar, has backpedaled on his pronouncement that marijuana “is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.”

His original statement was made to The Fresno Bee on July 22. But in a little-noticed interview with Komo 4 News in Washington earlier this month, Kerlikowske was given a second chance to address the question.

As pointed out by Jacob Sullum at Reason, the nation’s top official on drugs excused his statement by blaming the weather:

“We had been hiking in 107 degree weather in the Sierra Nevadas and when we came down … The question was in reference to smoked marijuana and as you know, smoked marijuana has not been shown by the FDA to have that, to show medicinal value. And that … This is a medical question and that’s where we’re gonna leave it.”

Read the rest:

http://rawstory.com/blog/2009/08/obamas-drug-czar-blames-hot-weather-for-medical-marijuana-slip/

New Artificial Bone Made of Wood

Keep your jokes to yourself…

From Discovery News:

Aug. 10, 2009 — A new procedure to turn blocks of wood into artificial bones has been developed by Italian scientists, who plan to implant them into large animals, and eventually humans.

Wood-derived bone substitute should allow live bones to heal faster and more securely after a break than currently available metal and ceramic implants.

The researchers chose wood because it closely resemble the physical structure of natural bone, “which is impossible to reproduce with conventional processing technology.”

Read the rest:

http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/08/10/artificial-bone.html